Paris ranks high on many people’s lists of must-visit cities, and with good reason: the French capital is rich in history, culture and style, with exquisite architecture, charming restaurants and fantastic shopping opportunities. What many people don’t realise is that the City of Light also boasts a vibrant LGBT community, with scores of gay-friendly bars, restaurants, shops and other attractions – enough to keep any visitor busy for the duration of their stay in Paris.
To help point you toward the city’s best LGBT-specific destinations, we spoke to journalist and author Bob Adams – who runs the blog Oui Always Have Paris, dedicated to Parisian travel, history and culture – to get his top tips on things to see and do in the city.
Tell us a bit about your love of Paris and how your writing captures it
“I fell in love with Paris during my first trip to Europe at age 12, and ever since I’ve begged, pleaded and pestered my family, friends and co-workers to travel with me to the City of Light. To date, I’ve spent nearly four months in Paris, and that’s still not nearly enough!
“I recently completed an LGBT travel guide, Gay Paris: An LGBT Guide to the City of Light, that is currently being shopped around to U.S. book publishers by my literary agent. I hope to have it published later this year! And about a year and a half ago, I launched a blog, Facebook page and Twitter account about Paris called Oui Always Have Paris, through which I revisit some of my favorite destinations in the City of Light and provide some of the unique histories behind each of them. Some of these posts are about LGBT-specific locations, but the vast majority are more general in nature and appeal to Paris lovers of every stripe.”
Would you consider Paris a LGBT-friendly city? Why?
“Paris is on a par with Berlin as the most LGBT-friendly city in Europe, but most tourists don’t realize that Paris has an extremely liberal bent and an enormous gay community. In a nutshell, Paris has more LGBT destinations than any city in the U.S. and more than just about any other city in the world.
“There are nearly three dozen gay and lesbian bars, and another 20 or so where the regular crowds are half or more LGBT. The city is home to nearly three dozen LGBT restaurants and another two dozen plus that bill themselves as gay-friendly. There are more than 100 LGBT clubs and organizations, most of which are represented at the city’s impressive gay and lesbian center located in the heart of Paris’ “gayborhood”. Visitors will also find dozens of LGBT shops and boutiques, from two gay bookstores (one focused solely on lesbian and feminist titles) to clothing boutiques catering to specific niches of the gay community, such as lesbian motorcyclists, LGBT musicians and even drag queens.
“Many LGBT businesses in France belong to the Syndicat National des Entreprises Gaies (SNEG), an organization formed initially in the 1980s to help gay venues combat police aggression toward and discrimination against LGBT business owners and patrons. Today, the organization is the only nationwide body for gay businesses in France and boasts more than 600 members. Look for a rainbow sticker with the SNEG logo in the front windows of participating businesses.
“The City of Light is also home to several historic gay and lesbian sightseeing destinations. These include a memorial to gays – and others – murdered by the Nazis during World War II, as well as monuments honoring two French kings who preferred the company of men. You can also see the Left Bank homes and salons of famous literary lesbians from the early 20th century, including Gertrude Stein and her lover Alice B. Toklas, among many others, and the final resting places of many famous gay men and lesbians, the most notable of whom is Oscar Wilde. You can even stay in the very hotel room in which Wilde spent his final years and where he died. Visitors to Paris can easily spend a week or more solely immersed in the city’s LGBT community and culture. And of course, “straight Paris” has more than its fair share of charm and beauty as well!”
Which LGBT destinations would you recommend?
“If I were a first-time visitor to Paris and wanted a taste of the city’s gay culture, here are the places I’d be sure to visit: my first stop would be the Centre LGBT Paris–Île-de-France. Here you can find brochures for the city’s many LGBT businesses and clubs, read gay and lesbian publications, have a coffee or soft drink at the on-site café and chat to other locals and visitors to learn more about Paris’ gay community.
“For lunch, definitely stop by Open Café in the Marais. Its huge wrap-around patio offers the best people-watching in Paris’ gayborhood. After lunch, stroll the Rue Sainte-Croix de Bretonnerie – it’s the gayest street you’ll ever see, with numerous LGBT bars, restaurants and shops. Be sure to stop in Les Mots à la Bouche, one of the largest and best gay bookstores in the world.
“For drinks and socializing, hit up the watering holes and restaurants on the Rue des Lombards in the Les Halles district; these include Gossip, Sly, the Bear’s Den, Arena, Dandy’s, Le Chant des Voyelles, l’Amazonial and Tropic Café. Lesbians should definitely check out the nearby Rue des Écouffes, where there are three lesbian bars within crawling distance of each other. And take a quick Metro ride to the Charonne neighborhood to visit lesbian and feminist bookstore Violette and Co, and also to the Petit Palais near the Champs Élysées, which has so much female-centric art that many Parisians jokingly call the gallery a “musée lesbienne” (lesbian museum).
“I also highly recommend visiting Père Lachaise cemetery. Be sure to seek out the graves of Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Proust, and Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, who share a tombstone. Another must-see site is the Deportation Memorial, which honors the 200,000 French citizens – many of whom were LGBT – that were murdered in Nazi extermination camps during World War II. And, especially for gay men, stop by the Flame of Liberty, an ad-hoc memorial to gay icon Princess Diana that’s located just above the tunnel where she was killed in a car crash in 1997. Visitors still leave flowers and mementos at the site. I have to admit, I do every time I’m in Paris.”
What would you say are the most iconic foods in Paris? Where can you find them?
“France is a foodie’s paradise, and it’s actually hard to get a bad meal in Paris, as long as you avoid the tourist traps. Here are some of the most famous Parisian foods, and some of the best LGBT restaurants where you can sample them:
Baguettes: “LGBT visitors should definitely stop by the boulangerie/patisserie Legay Choc on Rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie for their daily baguettes. OK, to be honest, there are probably better versions available elsewhere in Paris. But you have to check this place out for the shop’s “erotic” breads, pastries and chocolates. Don’t leave without a ‘baguette magique.’
Boeuf bourguignon (beef and vegetable stew slow cooked in red wine): “The wonderful gay bistro 48 Condorcet in the city’s rapidly gentrifying 9th district offers only a few regular dishes. But the ever-changing daily menu frequently features boeuf bourguignon, and I’ve never had better anywhere in the City of Light. “La recette de ma maman (my mom’s recipe),” co-owner Pascal Desrosiers proudly tells customers.
Canard (duck): “Many – if not most – Paris restaurants sell duck. One of the best choices is the stunning, ornate LGBT restaurant Le Petit Prince de Paris in the Latin Quarter, which is also a perfect “date night” destination. Order the Assiette Coin-Coin (duck plate), which offers a medley of duck dishes, including confit de canard (duck leg preserved in duck fat), duck foie gras, smoked duck breast and a salad topped with duck gizzards.
Foie gras (fatty goose liver): “Most Parisian restaurants offering foie gras try to put their own unique spin on the dish, such as coating it with flavored sauces, or combining it with other ingredients. If you want a simple, classic, earthy slab of foie gras, head to gay bistro Le Coupe Gorge near City Hall.
Fondue: “OK, fondue is probably more Swiss than French, but many visitors to Paris still seek it out, and the very best in the City of Light is sold at Pain, Vin, Fromages, an LGBT restaurant in the Marais that specializes in such Alpine dishes as fondue, raclette and tartiflette.
Pot au feu (stew of boiled beef, vegetables and bone marrow) and Soupe à l’oignon (French onion soup): “Wandering through the enchanting Île Saint Louis is a quintessential Parisian experience, and dining at the island’s charming Auberge de la Reine Blanche should definitely be a part of that adventure. The restaurant offers top-notch pot au feu, served in the very pot in which the dish was cooked, and what is simply the best French onion soup available anywhere in Paris. It is not to be missed.”
Which are the best LGBT festivals in Paris?
“The biggest and most exuberant LGBT festival in Paris is the yearly gay pride parade, called La Marche des Fiertés (The Pride March). Estimates of the annual crowd range from 600,000 to 1 million! And aside from the parade itself – which takes nearly four hours from start to finish – the entire Pride Weekend, usually the last in June, is filled with LGBT gatherings and special events. It gives the entire city, but especially the way-gay Marais, the feeling of one enormous street party.
“There are other notable LGBT events that may also appeal to international travelers. There’s the weeklong Paris Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, generally held in late November or early December. The festival includes screenings of as many as 75 full-length and short films, as well as numerous lectures and parties, and draws about 15,000 attendees every year.
“The Paris Feminist and Lesbian Film Festival, called “Quand les Lesbiennes se Font du Cinéma” (When Lesbians Make Movies), is held annually in late October/early November, and includes screenings of nearly 50 films from filmmakers in more than two dozen countries. And finally, there’s Queer Food for Love, a collaboration of artists, activists and cooks who get together every other month to prepare seasonal, organic and vegan three-course dinners for LGBT men and women interested in learning more about vegetarianism and the “locavore” movement. It has a very “hidden kitchen” feel to it and visitors are welcome to attend.”
Ready to explore LGBT Paris for yourself? Book a hotel in central Paris with Radisson Blu and start planning today – simply speak to the concierge team or reception staff for directions and more information.